At this point, it’s been over a month since the recent ban announcements helped the Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper metagames evolve. In Pioneer, Smuggler’s Copter has made a significant impact, being utilized in a multitude of ways. Meanwhile, in Modern, the banning of Fury helped open the door for some Creature-based strategies like Prowess and Merfolk to gain a bit of ground.
Curiously, despite Fury getting the axe, Rakdos Scam in Modern is still a dominant archetype. Ultimately, play patterns involving Grief and Not Dead After All are not ideal, and many players were hopeful that the bans would have done more to shake up the metagame. Pauper seems to be in a very similar situation. The hope was that the banning of Monastery Swiftspear would accomplish two key goals: to weaken aggressive mono-red decks and reduce the overall speed of the format.
Unfortunately, not only is mono-red still a dominant strategy thanks to recent additions like Goblin Tomb Raider, but the format is still incredibly fast. Beyond just mono-red, All that Glitters and Tolarian Terror provide massive power boosts to the board for cheap. Slower decks like the multi-color Tron variants have greatly decreased in popularity as a result.
Interestingly, though, a new Tron variant appears to be emerging that may help solve some of the problems this type of strategy has struggled with in the past. As a mono-red Tron deck, this archetype makes use of excellent removal to help stabilize the board and take over the game with a large mana advantage. There’s a lot going on here, so we’re going to start by talking about the deck’s main game plan.
Slow and Steady
The goal of this deck is to keep the opponent off-balance with removal long enough to start slamming haymakers. This is where the Tron mana base comes into play. By assembling the combination of Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Mine, you get a huge burst of mana that you can use to cast your big spells or cast multiple spells at a time.
Unlike traditional Tron variants like you may see in Modern, though, this version of the deck doesn’t need to assemble all three Tron Lands extremely early to have success. Without access to cards like Sylvan Scrying that can help set up Tron as well as game-breaking colorless payoffs like Karn, the Great Creator, getting all three Tron Lands in play may take some time.
Instead, this strategy plays quite similarly to a control deck. You can use removal and board wipes to keep the battlefield clear, then land a threat like Crimson Fleet Commodore to generate a flow of card advantage in your favor. Cards like Expedition Map and Candy Trail can help dig for your Tron Lands when necessary, but getting extra mana can take some time.
Once you do manage to get the requisite Tron Lands together, though, the world is your oyster. Casting haymakers like Boarding Party becomes rather trivial. Self-Assembler becomes an excellent Creature to have access to since you can flood the board with 4/4s. Alongside this, Oliphaunt works double duty, keeping your Land drops flowing in the early game while acting as a large threat in the late game.
The best payoff for being specifically in mono-red Tron, though, is definitely Rolling Thunder. Even with Prophetic Prism banned in Pauper, this version of Tron can easily and reliably obtain the two red mana necessary to cast this devastating spell. With access to Tron, Rolling Thunder can be used to either keep the opponent’s board clear or as a method of closing the game by simply dealing a ton of damage to the opponent.
Keeping up in a Fast Format
This variant of Tron may seem a bit strange, but in the context of Pauper in its current state, it seems like a reasonable meta-call. The reality is, that you can’t spend much time developing your mana without impacting the board directly. Otherwise, mono-red and Affinity decks will run you over. This is where the idea of staying mono-red comes into play.Lightning Bolt is a phenomenal removal spell that can deal with opposing copies of Goblin Tomb Raider or Ardent Recruit. Meanwhile, a full playset of Breath Weapon can make sure you don’t get punked out by an early Kuldotha Rebirth or a bunch of copies of Frogmite. Filigree Familiar provides an extra life buffer that can be cast off of colorless mana alone. After sideboarding, there are a range of helpful tools to add depending on the matchup. This includes using Pyrite Spellbomb as an answer to Crimson Acolyte and Pyroblast to help force your win conditions through against counter magic.
Strengths and Weaknesses
As previously iterated, this version of Tron does a much better job against hyper-aggressive strategies. The gameplan of removing the opponent’s Creatures and slamming haymakers that can win the game on their own is quite reasonable. Where things can get a bit awkward, though, is against decks with both counter magic and pressure.
First of all, you have a lot of mostly dead cards against the Tolariant Terror decks, as both Breath Weapon and Volcanic Spite are useless against Tolarian Terror, , and [tooltips]Gurmag Angler. On top of that, even if you assemble Tron quickly, actually getting Self-Assembler or Oliphaunt to stick against a deck with Counterspell and Snuff Out at the ready can be very difficult.
Additionally, much like other Tron decks, you are quite vulnerable to Land destruction spells like Thermokarst out of Ponza-style decks. Fortunately, those archetypes have greatly diminished over time, but by contrast, Tolarian Terror decks are very popular.
As such, this deck in its current form seems like it has some rather polarizing matchups. It’s unlikely that it will break out and become a tier-one archetype in the near future as a result. Still, it showcases innovation in a format that has been rather stale overall, even despite the recent bans. If you enjoy Tron strategies but are tired of getting bullied by mono-red, consider giving this deck a shot.